Before Russell Gentry, CEO and Partner with M1 Data and Analytics, was even considered a legal adult, he enrolled in the fire academy after graduating from high school at the age of 17. Following an 18-year career that saw Gentry rise to the rank of Battalion Chief, he entered the world of data technology. From acquisitions to liquidity events, Gentry shared the story behind his entrepreneurial journey and how M1 is putting their stamp on the world of Big Data and Analytics.
"During my time with the Fire Department, I took college courses in Computer Science," Gentry said. "I was always interested in computers and the union paid for us to get our degrees. When I retired in 1998, I moved to California to work for AutoWeb, an automotive media and marketing services company focused on data and lead generation for car dealerships. When AutoWeb merged with another company in 2001, I had a parachute payment as part of the buyout and used that money to start a company."
Gentry continued, "Between 2001 and 2017, I acquired two more companies and founded another. I served as President and Partner of Authenticom for nearly 12 years and founded Xcelerated Investments, Inc., a data technology company with a focus on the automotive industry. I sold Xcelerated in June 2015 and, after a few additional roles in the data tech space, I took a board seat and became a partner with M1."
Founded in 2007 by Greg Ashe, M1 Data & Analytics is a full service Data and Data As a Service (DaaS) company. As Gentry shared, by focusing on collaborations and true partnerships, M1 is going well beyond simply providing data.
"We are hyper-focused on how to leverage data assets into services that brands, companies and agencies use to get dramatically higher results," he said. "We are a DaaS company, which means we don’t just toss a data file or list over the fence to a client. We build collaborations that focus on building custom audiences for our clients. We go beyond the tired old model of demographic matching. We love to create data alignment between a clients brand and a consumer audience that finds the engagement timely and relevant. We also have a patent pending Data Technology that reduces brands expense by 80% and increases conversions 3 to 1."
This Data Technology - SmartPiXL - is a tool that Greg Ashe initially drafted, but didn't act on. A big reason Gentry joined the team is because he saw the tremendous potential of this patent pending technology. He also saw an opportunity to scale M1 by focusing on non-transactional relationships.
"The traditional model was very much a list brokerage service," Gentry said. "You'd give accounts to Client A and they did what they wanted with the data. Unfortunately, that model isn't very scalable. Client A might order in June, but not in July or August. It's a very transactional approach. We made a shift to focus more on the Data As a Service model - a model that gives our clients continuous access to a suite of APIs and gives us a steadier and more predictable return. We knew that, along the way, we'd lose certain clients by shifting to this model, but based on a long-term strategy and a desire to diversify beyond the automotive industry, it was the right thing to do."
By working to continually find new ways to leverage data assets to create advanced audience sets, which make for relevant and timely engagement, Gentry and his team are finding personal satisfaction and delivering exceptional results. Moving beyond the automotive industry, which at one point accounted for 80% of M1's business, they've successfully diversified into Hospitality, RV, Marine and Retail. Looking ahead, Gentry's goals are to continue expanding the footprint of the business while positioning the company for a possible future acquisition.
What advice does Gentry have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Don't try to boil the ocean," he said. "Entrepreneurs have a tendency to be very aggressive and optimistic. Sometimes that optimism and big blue skies causes them to reach in too many directions at once. You have to decide what's working well and what to focus on. Pick that and back it to nth degree. Remember, find a problem, solve it and the revenue will follow."